October 24, 2016
A Childhood Wasted?
An article I read several years ago has permanently emblazoned itself into my memory. It described this beautiful little 11 or 12-year-old girl. She had a daily job.
Her village severely lacked water. Her duty was to take a five-gallon bucket, walk some five or six miles to a source of water, fill it up, and walk it back. Every day.
You know how big a 5 gallon bucket is. You know how heavy it is when it’s full. How would you like your life to be narrowed to such an existence? Why is it incumbent upon this dear young girl to be a water-finder for her village?
What about her childhood?
I have observed that the more privilege I have – the more niceties I enjoy -I tend to be less thankful.
Thankfulness has to be cultivated and nourished.
In the 60s, on a two-week mission trip in the deserts and Andes ranges of Peru, seeing how the people lived, yet with great joy, I made a promise to myself. The promise: “I will never be unthankful again.” Thankfulness has been my mindset ever since. (In a future article, I will share this experience with you in more detail.)
This does not mean I have lived up to this perfectly. But it’s at the base of everything I do and think.
Why, when we reach certain levels of enjoyment or certain gifts are bestowed on us, does it become, in a short time, our right and even our demand to continue to have that thing?
Jealousy is a subtle beast.
Let me say the majority of our politics in this sad, chaotic day, is based on pitting one group against another. The politics of greed, envy, and jealousy abound. I will let that lie for now.
In Alaska we have something called the Permanent Fund. It was established years ago by far-sighted thinkers, to help fund state necessities when the oil would eventually decline. Two or three years later, another forward thinking individual proposed that we set aside a small fraction of the fund as a dividend for all the citizens. The state government leaders approved the idea. Citizens have received unencumbered cash ever since. It’s great.
We have appreciated this. It’s wonderful to get hundreds or thousands of dollars every October simply because we happen to be resident here. It is a gift.
Woo-Hoo! New flat panel! For some it’s “pay the late bills”. Others might even save some dollars.
A paper on the fund says “The Alaska Constitution says that the principal may not be spent. The earnings in the earnings reserve may be spent by the Legislature for any public purpose, including the Permanent Fund Dividend distribution.” So, there’s a tight restriction in place. Looking back, that may not have been too wise.
My point is: the gift has morphed from a joyful privilege to a demanded right. The nature of the gift has never changed, but the mindset certainly has.
“What’s mine is mine; don’t you dare take it away.”
Our state is in deep trouble financially. Really deep.
We sit on a pile of cash. We refuse to touch it, because of fear of the people. The Earnings Reserve is available to spend, but our leaders have decided to specifically touch the dividend. I guess they want us all to feel the pain. But is it pain to reduce something that’s gratis?
Do you want to see visceral anger? Read some of our news articles. Scan the Facebook posts.
Gripe. Complain. Wail.
This is not to deny the cynicism of leaving the fund untouched and taking the money more directly from the pockets of the people. But we think once it’s been given, it is ours perpetually. No one dare touch it.
While recognizing it’s a free gift (not an entitlement), I do think it was the wrong move. We should use the Permanent Fund (not the dividend) for the purpose for which it was established. But who has the political courage to do so?
The wary response of the people is, “Don’t touch the Fund. You greedy politicians will spend it all. And also don’t touch my dividend!”
Solution? Let us find people with integrity, with a right view of how things actually work in the world, and put them in office. Why subvert the original purpose for which the fund was established in the first place?
It’s like everyone is hungry, and there is a garden outside overflowing with goodies, but we don’t want to pick anything because we like the idea that it is there. So we stay hungry.
I certainly know that as we dip into that fund, the dividend could likely be affected. News: Real life works that way. Yet, should not we use the thing for the purpose for which it was intended?
When I save for a car, the expectation is that I will one day use it to purchase a car, thus avoiding loan payments. Certainly life circumstances can change and it might need to be redirected. But it’s not set aside simply to always be set aside, never to be used.
In the case of the permanent fund dividend, what was the gift has become a loudly demanded entitlement. People have only to exist to receive the check. They don’t have to do a thing.
There are numerous other examples in our society. Enjoyable privileges become demanded rights. Medicare. Social Security. Welfare. School loans. The list could quickly become overwhelming and boring.
We think it is our right to have better and better jobs, with higher and higher pay. Furthermore, it is our right to have someone else provide such things. Other people have reached levels which I have not attained and may never attain. So I focus on what they get to do, and feel badly that I may not ever have the same experience. And it’s someone else’s fault.
Somebody needs to pay.
It is our right, once we’ve started to be able to eat out regularly, to continue to do that. Eating at home is so banal. Eating has become an obsession in our society. For example, how on earth did we cultivate the establishment of foodies?
This happens, when other people have their life goal, every day, to be able to find a little anything to keep them alive a few more hours. We pick at morsels and make lofty pronouncements about perfectly, exquisitely pleasing flavors. We complain if the food is not prepared exactly to precise personal particularization.
How our perspective changes. Do I say we should refuse the abundant blessings of God? Of course not. He gives liberally. He is a lavish. But what should the attitude be? What should be the response? Isn’t it deep gratitude?
Why does demandingness even have a place? On what basis do I possess a right to insist on my right to anything? At all?
Do we realize how fabulously blessed we are? Do we recognize how weak and dependent we remain, even though we are rich? Do we realize we are not really in charge of our destiny?
While we fight about such trivia, demanding here and over there, somewhere there’s a little girl walking miles a day simply to get water for her obscure village.
Please tell me: where is the heart of God focused? To where is His attention drawn? Where does His compassion deeply reach out?
Being tight-fisted and demanding does not impress Him. At least, not in the way that we would hope it would.